If you are looking for escapist fiction, then Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” may not be up your alley. In fact, this film will most likely be at a far-away alley of dark shadows and unexplained noises seemingly echoing from the walls.
Of course, the fact that this film is deeply uncomfortable and disturbing yet also deeply awe-inspiring, would not be a surprise if you have seen Lanthimos’ other movies. Many of his previous films, such as “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster,” combine a sense of dread with an odd sense of humor, using the actors’ robotic performances to keep you laughing, while still alarmingly terrified. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” although funny in some moments, almost completely drops the laughs. I cannot count how many times I winced and hid in my seat watching this movie. However, like Lanthimos’ past two movies, this film does twist the audience’s notions of family and romance into a disgusting satirical mess.
This new film focuses on the family. Actor Colin Farrell plays a successful heart surgeon who had made a deadly mistake years ago and must be rectified through revenge, as he now must sacrifice a member of his own family or else his whole family will die. Lanthimos’ has taken the Greek mythology story of Iphigenia, where King Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice his daughter to the gods and forever change his family’s future. In the film, the director takes Iphigenia’s story, which feels removed from our modern world, and brings those ancient feelings of terror and anxiety to today’s society.
Every part of the film feels terrifying. The camera is Kubrick-esque with zoom ins and symmetrical shot composition reminiscent of “The Shining.” Filled with ominous chants and strident, clashing strings and percussion, the music feels as though it were almost designed through a focus-group to creep you out.
But the performances in the film are what sell the horror of the movie. As usually with Lanthimos’ movies, the performances are intentionally stilted and inhuman, but somehow all still work to the film’s advantage, especially with the movie's antagonist Martin, played to an extremely unsettling effect by actor Barry Keoghan. Farrell again seems to work well in the director’s purview, rather than being a Hollywood hunk, while the performance he gives is similar to the one he gave in “The Lobster.” Here, his character isn’t a schlub, but a model citizen full of power, privilege, and arrogance.
Actor Nicole Kidman, who plays Anna, the matriarch of the family, has been having a fantastic year in her American drama series “Big Little Lies,” where she has been reminding us of why it remains so highly celebrated. However, I have to give the biggest props to the two child actors Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic. Usually, child actors can be grating and deeply untalented, often acting either unnaturally “adult-ish” or overly immature for a real child, but these kids are going places.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll give you my personal take on the film. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is not a movie that I am clamoring to see again, at least not anytime soon. Honestly, I felt sick watching it. You feel disgusted with the actions that you see the characters partake on screen, but you also feel a little disgusted with yourself, as you can’t help but form an opinion regarding who should live or die. It’s rare that you find a movie providing you with such a unique emotional experience.
Throughout the movie, I thought I was detached from the robotic characters and more invested in the plot. But at the end, the movie changes, forcing me to realize that I actually cared about these robotic characters. For me, one of the most important aspects of cinema is how a film can take you out of your emotional comfort zone.
By throwing you into the most unlikely of situations, movies can make you feel terror, love, discomfort, or tragedy that people don’t usually get in their everyday lives. Seeing this film, I felt new feelings of horror of disgust but also a different side of sympathy that I had never really felt before. If you want to see something truly weird and wild, and if you want outside of the dreary rhythms of everyday life, this is the movie for you.